Author: Adam Silvera
Published Sept. 5 2017 by HarperTeen
Genre: YA contemporary/sci-fi, lgbt+
Date finished: March 22, 2018
On September 5, a little after midnight, Death-Cast calls Mateo Torrez and Rufus Emeterio to give them some bad news: They’re going to die today.
Mateo and Rufus are total strangers, but, for different reasons, they’re both looking to make a new friend on their End Day. The good news: There’s an app for that. It’s called the Last Friend, and through it, Rufus and Mateo are about to meet up for one last great adventure—to live a lifetime in a single day.
My thoughts (spoiler free)
Let’s make one thing clear: this book did not leave me with warm, fluffy feelings. It wasn’t a light, stress-relieving read. This book stressed me out.
And I loved it.
I enjoy books that can create a strong emotional reaction in me, whether positive or negative. So if a book can make me smile and laugh a lot, I like it! If a book makes me cry and shake my fists and curse the heavens, I also like it! This book was definitely the latter for me, and I can see why that would be in no way enjoyable for some people. But I think I cried a good half dozen times through this book, and none of those moments felt cheap or artificial in any way. This book made me feel things. I was basically leaking tears throughout most of it.
(I was reading the ending in my school’s cafe, choking back tears, while Africa by Toto was playing on the speakers, which did not fit the mood at all. It was surreal.)
It’s a pretty straightforward plot and most of it is revealed in the summary (and the title) anyway. But for me, the enjoyableness (is that a word? spellcheck says yes) didn’t come from figuring out what happens, but how it happens. It’s like one of those cheesy romcoms where you know exactly what the twists and turns will be but you still watch because you want to see how it plays out. (Except, you know, in this case there’s a lot more death and sadness.)
I’ve seen some complaints that we never learn how Death-Cast works, but I didn’t have an issue with that. This concept of learning what day you die is fascinating to me and raises so many questions. First of all, is it even a good thing to learn your End Day? Of course my gut instinct is to say no, because who would want to have that hanging over them? But on the other hand it allows people to sort out their last affairs and say goodbyes and make the most of their final hours! If they’re going to die anyway, why not give them that warning, especially for sudden and unexpected deaths? But still, it’s so morbid and it creates this culture that’s centered around and fascinated with death! This whole idea is so interesting to me, and even though it’s explored a lot in the novel, I almost wish it was explored more!
Anyway, that isn’t even plot stuff. I’m getting away from myself.
The whole novel takes place over the course of less than 24 hours, so we get basically every detail of this single day. I think as a writer this is a real challenge because it’s so constrained, but it works well here. Each chapter is marked with a timestamp, which gives such a sense of a ticking clock and the hourglass running out. It’s so tense!
There are also short chapters from the perspectives of various side characters. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about this because I tend not to like this device in books. But eventually, as I saw how all the pieces were fitting together, it grew on me. It made it clear that the story doesn’t belong only to Mateo and Rufus and there are so many other people in this world who are affected by tiny actions. It was like a jigsaw puzzle that all fit perfectly together in the end.
Of course, I loved both Mateo and Rufus. Mateo was the one I fell for first, because he’s incredibly relatable. If I found out I was dying, I would also have a major panic attack and not want to leave my bedroom! He was also just so sweet and caring. His development, even in the course of the single day, was beautiful.
Rufus took me a moment to get used to because he doesn’t have the best introduction. But once I got to know him, I loved him too. I have such a love for the tough-exterior, soft-interior characters, and this was him to a T. Watching him work through his anger and self-hatred was both wonderful and heartbreaking. Basically the whole time I was reading, I was crying and whispering:
My favorite of the side characters was Lidia. I loved her relationship with Mateo and I just want her to be happy!
The alternating chapters between Rufus and Mateo make the differences in their voices shine, which Adam Silvera does a great job with. The writing itself was solid but nothing spectacular – it was mainly a reflection of these two boys’ minds. Still, it showed the range of emotions they experienced incredibly clearly to the extent that I was feeling them right alongside them, which goes to show just how effective it was.
Like I said, this was an incredibly stressful reading experience for me, but weirdly I enjoyed it anyway. I was incapable of putting this book down and actually neglected some of my homework so I could finish it before class today (oops). It’s been a long time since a book has physically affected me so much – I was actually shaking while I read. The anticipation, the helplessness, the inevitability is killer. (No pun intended.)
Reading some other reviews of this book, I saw complaints that we know from the beginning exactly what’s going to happen. And, yes, that’s true. I think it comes down to a matter of preference – I don’t mind knowing how something’s going to end when I go into it. For example, if I hear a major spoiler for a book I was anticipating, I’ll (first of all) be a little disappointed, but I’ll still read it. I’m okay with knowing the way something is going to end and I can still enjoy the process of getting there. I know that there are a lot of people who can’t do this, so I can understand why this book really isn’t for everyone.
But yeah, this book was incredible and it made me consider so many questions of fate and choice and free will. I’m going to be thinking about it for a very long time.
And now I’m going to have to read only really happy books for the next month or so.
“But no matter what choices we make – solo or together – our finish line remains the same … No matter how we choose to live, we both die at the end.”